Bedrock Faith was the group read for February's #ReadSoulLit Readalong. I had never heard of Eric Charles May before, but I am very glad that I picked this one up. Although there are many individual stories to follow, May made it easy to keep up with all of the different characters that are introduced in this very insular community. The Parkland neighborhood felt very recognizable and familiar. Parkland is a sometimes overly close knit community of African American families and individuals that are all trying to live their version of the American dream. However, everyone seems to feel that keeping a close eye on their neighbors private affairs is necessary in order to prevent any disruptions to their little haven and to uphold their community standards.
I found it interesting how May chose to use Stew Pot and his new found religious fervor as a mirror for his former neighbors. Stew Pot was the neighborhood bully/thief/arsenist, who returns from prison with his own special brand of redemption, offers of salvation to his uninformed neighbors, and his unwanted policing of the community. May brought together a unique cast of characters that are familiar, entertaining, yet thought provoking. The personalities of this cast are what you could find in any close community in any part of the country. May made me think about just how quickly any of us can be to pass judgement on people with the thinnest amount of information. He also shines a light on the amount of hypocrisy and self righteousness many carry as shields against their own insecurities.
Although Bedrock Faith is a little over four hundred pages, it was an easy and pretty quick read. Bedrock Faith reads like an entertaining made for television mini series. If you enjoy stories of communities and how people interact with each other, this would be a good book to pick up. The cover is a perfect reflection of what you will get inside.
After fourteen years in prison, Gerald “Stew Pot” Reeves, age thirty-one, returns home to live with his mom in Parkland, a black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. A frightening delinquent before being sent away (his infamies included butchering a neighbor’s cat, torching another neighbor’s garage, and terrorizing the locals with a scary pit bull named Hitler), his return sends Parkland residents into a religiously infused tailspin, which only increases when Stew Pot announces that he experienced a religious awakening in prison. Most neighbors are skeptical of this claim, with one notable exception: Mrs. Motley, a widowed retiree and the Reeves’s next-door neighbor who loans Stew Pot a Bible, which is seen by Stew Pot and many in the community as a friendly gesture.
With uncompromising fervor (and with a new pit bull named John the Baptist), Stew Pot appoints himself the moral judge of Parkland. He discovers that a woman on his block is a lesbian and outs her to the neighborhood, the first battle in an escalating war of wills with immediate neighbors: after a mild threat from the block club president, Stew Pot reveals a secret that leaves the president’s marriage in ruin; after catching a woman from across the street snooping around his backyard, Stew Pot commits an act of intimidation that leads directly to her death.
Stew Pot’s prison mentor, an African American albino named Brother Crown, is released from prison not long after and moves in with Stew Pot and his mom. His plan is to go on a revival tour, with Stew Pot as his assistant. One night, as Stew Pot, Mrs. Reeves, and Brother Crown are witnessing around the neighborhood, a teenager from the block attempts to burn down the Reeves home. He botches the job and instead sets fire to Mrs. Motley’s house. She is just barely rescued, but her house is a total loss and she moves in with a nearby family. Neighbors are sure Stew Pot is behind the fire. The retaliations against Stew Pot continue, sending him over an emotional ledge as his life spirals out of control with grave consequences. Through the unforgettable characters of Stew Pot and Mrs. Motley, the novel provides a reflection on God, the living and the dead, and the possibilities of finding love without reservation.